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A year since launching, SLO's Mobile Crisis Unit has had hundreds of calls for service

Posted at 6:37 PM, Jul 10, 2023

A program managed by the San Luis Obispo City Fire Department is offering crisis support services with a major focus on the homeless population.

The Mobile Crisis Unit program launched on July 5, 2022. More than a year later, the need for its services is greater than ever.

The Mobile Crisis Unit van is equipped with food, water, and even blankets. It’s staffed with a case worker and firefighter-paramedic

“The intent of that unit is to offload some of the response to our fire engines and our emergency response personnel to handle scenarios that are not necessarily emergencies and don't necessarily require traditional medical intervention," said San Luis Obispo City Fire Chief Todd Tuggle.

While the Mobile Crisis Unit was launched to aid first responders in mental health situations, it has since expanded its services.

“Our Mobile Crisis Unit, when it's not being requested by a fire department or ambulance or police resources, is actively engaging with our homeless populations or our partners within the county," Chief Tuggle added.

“It's not just a numbers game. It's not just trying to make as many contacts as possible. I think they do their work in a very intentional way. Our case manager has often driven individuals all the way down to Orange County for treatment," said Dasiy Wiberg, City of San Luis Obispo Homelessness Response Manager.

The unit can be activated in multiple ways, but the most common is just driving around to areas that are not always visible.

“San Luis Creek, throughout our creek beds, behind buildings, in places that many of us don't typically see them," Tuggle explained.

The specialized van is equipped to help people experiencing a mental health crisis but also connects them with other resources as needed.

“When we go out, many folks are malnourished. They are hungry. They're hot or they're cold and so simply providing a level of comfort to people oftentimes is a good lead into additional conversations and the development of trust with folks that really are invisible to a lot of us," Tuggle said.

In the first year of operation, Chief Tuggle reports there have been:

  • 64 reunifications with a homeless person and their family
  • Around 3,500 contacts, which can be the start of a conversation/offering of help
  • 471 calls for service

"The county adopted a five-year plan to address homelessness and the city adopted a two-year plan. In that plan, we have very specific key components that we outlined and really wanted to focus on and pilot programs are one of those five key components. Our Mobile Crisis Unit and Community Action Team with the police department both fall under that pilot program," Wiberg added.
Looking toward the future, Chief Tuggle tells KSBY he hopes this is a model that is replicated countywide and that the service could run 24/7.

The Mobile Crisis Unit is funded through the city’s General Fund. The unit operates Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.